Sarah Donahue loves downtown Pittston, but that’s not the only reason she’s put in hundreds of volunteer hours green lighting the Pittston St. Patrick’s Parade. She loves being Irish-American too. When she’s not busy planning events for Downtown Pittston, Donahue is a eventh- and eight-grade reading teacher at Pittston Area.
She answered some questions for Greater Pittston Progress about her Irish heritage.
GPP: Talk about your parents and siblings.
SD: My dad is John Donahue, but everybody knows him as Casey. He’s a financial advisor at Morgan Stanley. My mom is Julie Brosso Donahue, she’s a Pittston Area school nurse. My sister Jessica Donahue Tropp is a vice president at Spectra in Philadelphia.
GPP: What did you learn through genealogy research?
SD: Two years ago, Santa Claus brought me a DNA kit for Christmas. I used MyHeritage. It took about a month to get the results back, and I was actually super surprised by them. For 36 years, I was half Irish and half Italian, and my DNA results said I wasn’t Italian at all, but Greek.
I was sitting at my desk at school, and lunch had just started. I checked my email on my phone and saw that my results were in. I read it and immediately burst out laughing.
I called my mom, still laughing and said, “Mom, we’re not Italian, we’re Greek!”
It was a moment I’ll never forget. I’m 46% Irish, Scottish and Welsh, 38% Greek, 5% East European, 4% Balkan, 6% other. So now I’m claiming I’m Irish, Italian and Greek.
My dad did his recently. His said that he is 88% Irish, Scottish and Welsh, 8% English, and 5% East European.
For Christmas this year, I gave my sister a DNA kit, to see if hers matched mine. Her results were actually totally different, so within my family we’ve been joking about that a lot. I’m thinking maybe we should try another company and see what those results yield.
Her results were: 30% Italian, 28% English, 24% East Europe, 7% African. So, who knows?
GPP: Who were your first Irish ancestors to come here?
SD: My dad’s parents were Donahues and Purcells. On the Donahue side, three of my great-great-great-grandparents came from Ireland in the mid 1800’s. Patrick and Mary Martin, and Michael and Mary Ann (Kelly) Donahue. They were most likely from Kerry, Ireland.
My Irish ancestors settled in the Junction section of Pittston. Many worked in the mines and on the railroad. My great-grandfather John, on the Purcell side, was a mine foreman at the No. 5 shaft. His wife was Margaret Gallagher.
They loved having big family gatherings and specifically playing cards. They loved to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day at the Knights of Columbus, which is so ironic, because that’s where our parade committee meets. So I think they’d approve of that. They loved to make and eat ham and cabbage.
I recall big family parties when I was little. Big family reunions. Lots of laughter, lots of beer served. They were and are a happy, lively bunch.
GPP: Is having Irish ancestry a source of pride for your and your family?
SD: When I was in middle school and receiving confirmation, I actually chose the name Brigid, because I felt a strong connection to what St. Brigid represented. It might be because I carry the Donahue name, but I’ve just always felt more Irish than Italian. I loathe all cheese, so I think the Italians disowned me a long time ago.
Every parade day, I do take a moment and look around and really just take it all in, very much thinking about my Irish ancestors. They came here and became Americans, but they were still so incredibly proud of their Irish heritage. I hope that they’re smiling down on me from above and happy with what we have done in bringing back the St. Patrick’s Parade and so much Irish pride to Pittston.
For so many years, Pittston was really known as an Italian town, which I attribute to our Tomato Festival, and Columbus Statue, amongst other things. With the rebirth of the St. Pat’s Parade and the addition of the John F. Kennedy statue, I really feel like the Irish of Pittston are finally getting the recognition that we always deserved. I’m so proud to be a part of that and I look forward to growing it in years to come.
Irish hospitality at its finest
For Sheila and Paul Kern, a trip to Ireland in 2018 with a group from Queen of Apostles Parish in Avoca was more than a pilgrimage to see Pope Francis, who was in Ireland for the World Meeting of Families — it was also to celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary and step foot on the old sod of their ancestors.
Though her father Howard Ackerman was German, her mother, Claire Moran, was 100% first generation Irish-American and Sheila’s immigrant grandparents, Sabina McGloan and James Moran and Ellyn McGlynn and John Moran, were from Connacht and Sleigo. Her great grandparents were Elizabeth Melberly and Edward McGloran, from East Mayo. Paul’s grandparents were named Sweeney. If those Irish bonafides aren’t enough, Sheila’s grandmother was baptized and died on St. Patrick’s Day.
In Ireland, Sheila and Paul stood on the Cliffs of Moher, climbed 600-year-old castles, shopped in the Connemara Marble Store in Dublin, visted the grave of the poet William Butler Yeats, prayed at the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Knock, where an apparition of the Blessed Mother appeared in 1879, and saw the Pope in a procession.
But the real excitement happened as they waited in the line at Dublin Airport to board their flight home. Paul, who had a history of heart disease, began to sweat profusely. He went weak and the sat down on luggage. He was having a serious cardiac event. What happened next was the parable of the Good Samaritan times five. An American nurse took Paul’s vitals and recommended he go to the hospital. “From there,” said Sheila, “the airport took over.” The paramedics arrived instantly and took Paul to a hospital where he had an angioplasty to repair a blockage.
Meanwhile, an airport employee locked up their luggage and gave Sheila her phone number. Paul was admitted.
Sheila had nowhere to go. The hospital arranged a room at a B&B owned by a Mary Malone. She picked Sheila up. It was a beautiful room with a private bath. The airport delivered their luggage. Malone took her back and forth from the hospital the first few days. Once she learned the route Sheila walked. The hospital brought Sheila meals as she sat with Paul. When Paul was released, a limo took them to the airport. The airline gave them an extra seat and had a car waiting for them when they arrived in Newark. Their travelers insurance paid for everything.
Nearly two years later Shelia still marvels at the “wonderful” affirmation of Irish hospitality and compassion they were treated to.